Balaton Uplands National Park
Hungarians are well known for their incredible feats of innovation. Many of these have been accomplished after they emigrated abroad. The list of famous expatriate Hungarians is long and notable.
The country has long been an exporter of people and ideas. Looking back through history, it seems this traffic has flowed one way and that movement has been outward.
On the other hand, the list of foreigners who made their mark on Hungary is relatively short, that is if we cancel out invaders and occupiers.
Yet ideas immigrate just like people. Ideas transcend borders, as well as space and time. They impart their influence on people and even on the land.
Speaking of the land, one idea that has influenced the protection of landscapes was a relative late comer to Hungary, but has left its mark on some of the most beautiful areas in the Carpathian Basin.
This is the National Park idea. As is so often recited in popular lore, the national park idea is a uniquely American concept, with Yellowstone being the first national park designated in the world.
This happened in 1872 and since that time national parks have been declared all over the globe. Some say that national parks are the ultimate example of democracy.They set aside land for the public good, held in ownership by all of a nation’s citizenry.
What about the national park idea under tyranny? Despite the communist bent towards dictatorship and totalitarianism, it is also true that the communists put land back in the public domain.
Unfortunately, this was done in the most radical way possible, putting all land under public or it should be said, government ownership. Economically and agriculturally this was terribly inefficient and pretty much a disaster.
Yet there are a few exceptions to every rule and in this case the protection of amazing natural landscapes as national parks did begin and even expand during the communist era.
This seems counter-intuitive, but it does not make it less true. In 1952, at the height of the Stalinist era in Hungary, the nation’s first national park was declared. It protected the Tihany peninsula, on the northern side of Lake Balaton.
Yet it was the same forces which protected beautiful landscapes that nearly destroyed them as well, leading paradoxically to their attempted restoration and protection. Nowhere does this seem more true than at Balaton Uplands National Park.
The park was designated in 1997 from six protected areas such as the aforementioned Tihany peninsula that take in the volcanic hills, rare flora, fauna and wetlands north of Lake Balaton.
One area of the park not to be missed is Kis-Balaton (Little Balaton). Located on the far southwestern end of the lake, Kis-Balaton is connected to Balaton by the Zala River. At one time it was the bay of the larger lake, covering 40 square kilometers.
The lake lost over half its water due to accelerated draining begun in the 1950’s. This was done for irrigation purposes in order to aid communist agricultural policy.To make matters much worse, pollutants dumped into the Zala River further contaminated the lake and nearly destroyed it in the process.
Something had to be done. Though communist policy had caused almost all of the damage, restoration was begun while the party was still in power.
In 1979 the area was placed under the International Ramsar Convention for the protection and sustainable use of wetlands.
This has brought about the wetlands we see today. Vast reed beds are a life force purifying water that will eventually flow into Lake Balaton. The sights and sounds of numerous bird species are readily apparent.
Thousands upon thousands of herons, egrets and geese stop here on their annual migrations. The resurrection of this globally significant ecological environment is a striking example of what conservation can achieve in the span of a single generation.
It’s enough to make one believe that there is still hope to restore the delicate balance of nature.
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